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Broadly

Broadly Forgotten Histories

Remembering the women who shaped the world.

by Broadly Staff
May 6 2019, 12:35pm

Photo courtesy of Ann Ferrar, biographer of Bessie Stringfield.

Women have long been mysteriously absent from history books. From the time we are young, this erasure is reflected in the lessons we learn about how our world came to be. Without learning about our forebears and truly understanding the challenges they faced, the knowledge they cultivated, and the triumphs they championed, we miss out on knowing how we actually got to this present moment and whose lives helped shape our current reality.

Writer Dianca Potts delves deep into the life and poetry of Pat Parker in this piece for Women's History Month. "An unsung hero of the Black Arts Movement and inspiration for Audre Lorde, her words are a salve for times like these," writes Potts. This piece is a beautiful tribute to a woman who helped pave the way for both LGBTQ people and people of color in poetry, all the while fighting for their rights.

In her column, Myth Understood, Christobel Hastings teaches us that there's more to the classic tales we thought we knew. Here, she revisits one of mythology's coolest reptilian anti-heroines, Medusa, examining a less-recognized part of her story.

For this ongoing project in collaboration with producer and artist Zackary Drucker, Broadly had the pleasure of meeting some of modern history's most accomplished and important transgender pioneers. They shared with us both beautiful and painful anecdotes from their lives. It was crucial to not only celebrate the lives of these incredible people, but to give them credit for their role in helping trans people to exist publicly and unapologetically today.

In this historical piece, Broadly examines DES, a form of synthetic estrogen marketed to women in the mid-20th century. An estimated five to 10 million women took it while pregnant. The drug was later found to cause miscarriage and a rare form of vaginal cancer in girls. We spoke to some of the women who believe they were affected.

Throughout history, most Japanese women were subject to rigid social expectations of marriage, domesticity, and motherhood, but there also existed women warriors who were known to be to be every bit as strong, capable, and courageous as their male counterparts. They belonged to the bushi class, a noble class of feudal Japanese warriors, and helped settle new lands, defend their territory, and even had a legal right to supervise lands as jito (stewards). Centuries before the rise of the samurai class in the 12th century, these women would fight in times of war to protect their homes, families, and deep sense of honor.

Born in 1911, Bessie Stringfield got her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout, while she was still in her teens and taught herself how to ride it. At the age of 19, young Stringfield flipped a penny onto a map of the US then ventured out on her bike alone. Interstate highways didn’t yet exist at the time, but the rough, unpaved roads didn’t deter her. In 1930, she became the first Black woman to ride a motorcycle in every one of the connected 48 states—a solo cross-country ride she undertook eight times during her lifetime.

Between 1909 and 1979, more than 20,000 people were involuntarily sterilized while living in California state institutions for the mentally ill and disabled. (The state’s eugenic law, which was repealed in 1979, gave the legal authority to make those decisions to medical superintendents, or the people in charge of running these institutions.) That’s one-third of the more than 60,000 sterilization procedures that occurred in the United States during the 20th century. Latina women were sterilized at 59 percent higher rates than non-Latinas.

Born in 1912, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was one of the most prolific Black female inventors of all time. By the end of her life, she had filed more patents than any other African-American woman in history, including a forward-thinking patent for a belt for sanitary napkins. As part of her Forgotten Women book series, Broadly UK editor Zing Tsjeng explores Kenner's life and many inventions.

Thanks to pop culture and films like Suffragette (2015), most people believe that the suffragettes were mainly straight, white, and able-bodied women. But the ranks of the movement were more diverse than you might think, including lesbian couple Lettice Floyd and Annie Williams, Sikh princess Sophia Duleep Singh and her sister Catherine Duleep Singh, and disabled suffragist Rosa May Billinghurst.

As International Women's Day becomes increasingly commercialized, it's worth remembering its true origins in the labor rights movement. Jewish refugee and ardent socialist Theresa Malkiel founded IWD forerunner Women's Day in 1909 as a public rally to organize workers in New York and to advocate for equality and women's suffrage.